Monday, October 30, 2006

Wisdom from Atticus Finch

I read a lot. One of my goals in life is to read 100 books within a year. I've never reached that, yet. The closest I've ever gotten is just under 70. I don't know if I'll make it this year either--I just finished my 50th book last week. One of the books I read (well, re-read) last week was TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee. I first read this when I was a freshman in high school. I almost had to teach it last fall as part of my student teaching, but was assigned LORD OF THE FLIES instead. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is an American classic. It takes place in Alabama during the height of the Great Depression. There are some great characters in the book and the character of Atticus Finch is what Superman (after one of the major DC updates in the 1960s) is said to pattern the way he wanted to live as a human being. Anyway, I was reading TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD last week and I came across a passage that is thought-provoking and intriguing.

I'm an English teacher and am currently substitute teaching all over the place. When I first went back to get my certificate, I had a few of the same ideals about education as most beginning teachers do. I didn't have as many because I was getting started a bit later in the game. Anyway, after doing some of my initial observations and experiences, I became aware of how screwed up the educational system (particularly at the secondary level) in the U.S. is. I was once told by Howard Dean (yeah, the guy who leads the Democratic Party) that though there are problems with our system, we shouldn't be discouraged because we try to do something in the U.S. that no other country in the world does--we try to make sure that everyone has at least a basic, fundamental education. No other country in the world does that--in most places in the world after you reach a certain age, if you don't want to continue your schooling, you don't have to. It seems really nice when you first hear it and it does seem like a good ideal, but (and this comes after much experience) it's not practical and instead of doing what its supposed to be doing, its doing the exact opposite. By trying to educate those who do not wish to be educated, we are penalizing and punishing all of those who wish to learn. Here's what Atticus Finch had to say about that:

"Thomas Jefferson once said that all men are created equal, a phrase that the Yankees and the distaff side of the Executive branch in Washington are fond at hurling at us. There is a tendency in this year of grace, 1935, for certain people to use this phrase out of context, to satisfy all conditions. The most ridiculous example I can think of is that the people who run public education promote the stupid along with the industrious--because all men are created equal, educators will gravely tell you, the children left behind suffer terrible feelings of inferiority. We know all men are not created equal in the sense some people would have us believe--...--some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of most men." p. 233, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, Harper Lee

I agree with Atticus. What do you think?

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